Tag Archives: school

You, Sir, are kicked out of “The Menagerie”

“He just blowed for you,” Darcy said from the back seat, eyes wide and still confusing her prepositions. Were we in trouble? He doesn’t look happy. Well, I pissed off the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school this morning. He’s a man in his 60s with a handheld stop sign and a whistle he’s not a afraid to blow with wild abandon. I treat him with distance and respect.

But I was tired this morning. And I was waving at a friend on the corner.

I didn’t notice him signaling me to turn right and so I got not one, not two, but three blows. The last blow was exasperated. It felt like a higher pitch although I’m not sure that’s possible.  It was the sound the whistle makes then the blower smokes too much and thinks everyone is an idiot.

This is basically the face I got this morning.

We made eye contact and his eyes were filled with contempt. Neon clad fingers pointed at me forcefully then directed me to turn right. The disdain was palpable. I wasn’t looking at my phone, I promise. I wasn’t about to hit a stroller.

But there is NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES AT DROP OFF!!!

Therefore, I must declare publicly that the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school is officially kicked out of The Menagerie.

I suppose I should explain what The Menagerie is. First you should know this: a writer’s mind is a vivid honeycomb of anecdotes, fantasies, dialogue, and clouded memories. And this massive cellular structure is all dripping in the honey of self-doubt and sarcasm.

Back to The Menagerie…

(Also, I know there are some of you who are confusing the word “menagerie” with “menage a trios.” Not the same. You have a dirty gutter mind.)

Simply put, The Menagerie is a group of people who I enjoy interacting with but would never really be friends with. I’m pretty fascinated by people even if I don’t always like them. The characters in The Menagerie have interesting stories. They are usually older people and therefore their stories a gilded by a veneer of fiction I find endearing. Their stories, their quips, and their motivations all provide fodder for my creative work. Write what you know, the adage goes.

Other current residents of the menagerie include my amazing landscaper who told me that he used to eat the squirrels he hunted in my area before they “put in all these goddamed houses” and the ex-CEO of Aeropostale who sat across from me in the adult education watercolor class at Bronxville HS. She wore Chanel shoes and Hermes scarves but borrowed my watercolors.

“Have you painted much before?,” I asked.

“No, but I have some experience in design. I just retired.”

“Oh, really? What did you do?”

“I worked in retail. At Aeropostale.”

My face must have looked confused as I tried to square a classy lady like herself folding $8 shirts at Aeropostale. So she clarified, “I was the CEO.”

“Oh?” I said. Duh, I am sitting in a school in Bronxville. 

“Can I borrow your cerulean?”

Can I borrow your fucking Birkin bag? <– I didn’t say that.

Anyway, I thought the new crossing guard would be perfect for my mind curio cabinet. He drives a red scooter that he parks in the fire lane and surrounds with small orange cones from Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s so idiots like me don’t hit the scooter. Or the idiots who drive the fire truck make sure to steer clear when they are pulling their emergency vehicle close to the school to save our children from burning flames or from ISIS.

Also, he wears one of those Sons of Anarchy helmets. The small black skull caps that look like they will do NOTHING if you get into an accident. That kind. And attached to the back of his helmet are three foxtails.

I am not kidding.

He also plants his pop-up chair in a neighbor’s yard. Not on school property but quite literally in the middle of someone’s lawn. There is shade here. I shall have it.

And one time, I saw him put his own body in front of a turning car. I think he even slapped the hood of the car so the driver would stop. Apparently, this driver decided she would turn right while he was crossing another party. He walked to the car and hollered at the driver. I can’t remember what he said but I’m pretty sure he muttered curses as he trudged back into the crosswalk. In my mind now, the crossing guard yelled the drill sergeant’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.  Something to the effect of… I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!

The point is…that four way intersection belongs to him…on school days…between 7:15 & 8:15am and then again between 2:30 & 3:30.

I don’t know much more about this guy. And after this morning, I will never find out. He’s the type who never forgets a face. I am now in the idiot category.

If you’d like to read about another group in my menagerie, check out my story of The Sippin’ Sisters.

Comments Off on You, Sir, are kicked out of “The Menagerie”

Filed under motherhood, texas, Uncategorized

Helping Your Middle School Student with his/her failing grades [FULL TEXT]

Originally published on March 30, 2017 in On Parenting, the Lifestyle section of the Washington Post. It needed trimming for WaPo but I wanted to put the full text on my site. It was really well received and even tweeted by the National Council for Teachers of English & Dad 2.0 Summit. 

Treat your middle schooler like a rattlesnake.

So it’s the end of March and your middle schooler’s grades are still unstable. And, to make matters worse, poor performance at school is eroding your child’s self-esteem. I know a few students who feel like their academic life is happening to them. Furthermore, parenting a middle school student is complicated. Questions about when you are helping or when you are helicoptering loom large.

But there’s still last quarter/trimester and that means there’s still time for improvement. I’ve taught English at secondary level, tutored middle school students in writing, and I’m a parent myself. Below I offer practical suggestions for helping your child become more self-directed and advocating for him in a way that’s not *gasp* helicoptering.

First, gather as much information as possible. There is so much lost in translation between the classroom and the home. Here’s what you need to know:

What are my child’s grades in each class? What are the consequences of failing a class?  How can I monitor those grades in between progress reports and report card distribution? Many schools use an online grade book where teachers, students, and parents have access to scores. This makes for fewer surprises when report cards are distributed. Find out what the consequences of academic failure are. Most schools address failing grades by removing students from extra-curricular activities. This policy is usually explicitly stated in the school handbook. If your child is highly invested in the musical or soccer team, this policy can be an effective motivator to improve those grades.

In each class, how is the final grade for a marking period computed? Not all grades count equally. A quiz usually counts for far less than a test, project, or research paper. This information was probably outlined at the beginning of the school year. And while it’s likely that each department calculates grades differently, it’s unlikely that your child will remember how the grading in each class works.

What units will the teacher cover last quarter/trimester? What are the big assignments? Many teachers already know due dates for projects or can approximate dates for tests. Teachers plot out each marking period with learning objectives and assessments.

 Does the teacher have his/her own website where students and parents can access information? When I taught English, I had a simple website powered by Google sites. I uploaded PDFs of short stories, assignments, graphic organizers, and informational handouts. I updated my site regularly with homework assignments or “housekeeping” items (i.e. field trip money due). Browsing teacher websites is a good way to keep yourself informed about what’s going on in the classroom without having to email the teacher multiple times and wait for replies. Moreover, you can synthesize the information on the websites along with your child. This makes for teachable moments about web literacy at home.

Where does my kid lose the most points? Is she crumbling on tests? Does he hand in essays late? As a teacher and tutor, I can usually identify the defining factor in a student’s failing performance. For some it is time management. For others it is lack of study skills. Some come alive when we read aloud in class but have problems reading at home. If you want a full picture here, this conversation with your child’s teacher is best done over the phone or in person. Email works perfectly when your questions require concrete answers. But when a situation is emotionally charged (like one about your child failing at school), email fails because it requires too much nuance.

Second, make a plan with your child. I realize this is easier said than done and will require an unremitting amount patience and energy.

Choose what to focus on. If you get answers to the questions above, you can use them to help your child budget her time. If your child knows what big assignments are coming up, he can focus on tackling one task at a time.

Get extra help. You don’t have to hire a tutor or pay tuition at a learning center (i.e. Mathnasium). Those are viable options, sure, but many teachers offer extra help. Encourage your son to ask when and where extra help takes place. It’s usually after school but sometimes teachers give extra help during unscheduled periods. And extra help is typically a smaller group. There’s more opportunity for your child to build rapport with her teacher and get questions answered.

Incentivize good grades. From sticker charts for chores to promotions with larger salaries at work, reward systems work regardless of age and stage. The key is identifying the right incentive. Set some challenging but doable goals with your middle schooler. Then establish something worthwhile to motivate your child. Be explicit in your conversations about both the goals and the rewards.

Invest in a planner. Transitioning from one teacher in elementary school to 6-7 teachers in middle school is jarring to students. Moreover, assignments have longer lead times. When I taught freshmen, I spent some time at the beginning of the year going over the school’s planner (a combo handbook, calendar, weekly organizer). Most adults keep some form of calendar. But maintaining an organized planner is not intuitive to most adolescents.

Teach your child how to email his teacher(s). Speaking of skills that are not intuitive, your child might be well-versed in new apps, but in sixth grade, she probably doesn’t know how to compose a good email. Writing polite, focused emails is necessary for success today. A few weeks ago, as my tutee Owen and I discussed his current English project, I realized he didn’t know enough about his teacher’s timeline or expectations. Instead of aimlessly circling the issue, we spent part of our session that night sending an email to his teacher. Owen asked questions about email etiquette like why does it need a subject or how do I write the salutation and closing. He was amazed at how quickly his teacher replied and how easy it was to get clarification. He’s a confident and capable adolescent. Knowing how to write an email is going to give Owen more agency in his academic life.

Third, work the plan. Consistent and clear dialogue is key as you move forward. I’m willing to bet that once you have the necessary information and a plan, you and your child will feel less anxious. Less anxiety will make conversations with your child go more smoothly. I’m a believer in frontloading: invest a good amount of time in the beginning and you’ll be able to pull away the scaffolding as your child builds his/her own study skills. Good luck!

 

 

 

Comments Off on Helping Your Middle School Student with his/her failing grades [FULL TEXT]

Filed under education, freelance writing, motherhood